Although substantial evidence exists for the involvement of growth-associated protein-43 (GAP-43) in neuronal development and regeneration, the precise role of this protein in neurite outgrowth is currently debated. To investigate the role of GAP-43 in the initiation of neurite outgrowth, we transfected a full-length cDNA coding for GAP-43 into a mouse neuroblastoma cell line (Neuro-2a) which can be differentiated to a neuronal phenotype using retinoic acid (RA). We show that the consequent overexpression of GAP-43 results in a change in the basic morphology of these cells, but is not in itself sufficient to induce the extension of neurites. However, overexpression of GAP-43 results in a marked acceleration of neurite formation in response to RA. We propose that while GAP-43 does not trigger the initiation of neurite extension, its expression is rate-limiting for neurite outgrowth in response to differentiation agents such as RA.